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April 4, 2012

Max Browne: Future Impact

From the time Max Browne was a five-year-old intently watching his brother, Mitch, quarterback Skyline High School to a state championship, his future quarterbacking success seemed almost predestined.

Now with his verbal commitment to USC Wednesday night, Browne has indicated he is ready to take the next step of that journey in Cardinal and Gold.

After showing much promise in grade school, Browne got an up-close look at the recruiting process as a high school freshman when he backed up Rivals' 2010 No. 1 quarterback Jake Heaps, allowing him to see first-hand what the recruitment of an elite player is all about.

Browne's own recruiting process began much earlier than expected when he was offered a scholarship by Washington shortly after the conclusion of that freshman season without having had any meaningful high school playing time.

Washington's confidence was validated after Browne took over Skyline's starting job as a sophomore and threw a whopping 50 touchdown passes, often targeting receiver Kasen Williams, a member of the 2011 Rivals 100.

Though Skyline lost in the state title game, the buzz about Browne had gone national. He picked up scholarship offers from Cal, Clemson, Wisconsin and Utah and was on the radar of virtually every major program in America.

By the end of his junior season, any potential doubts seemed to have been extinguished. Browne led Skyline to a state championship while throwing for over 4,000 yards with a 70 percent completion rate. He also trimmed his interceptions from 13 to seven.

While Browne had always seemed to possess the talent and the measurables, his two years of starting provided him with the seasoning he needed as well as vaulting him to the top of the Rivals rankings.

Though his recruitment had begun in earnest two years ago, it's been a dizzying stretch dash these last few weeks to the point where Browne would make his decision.

Browne received a call shortly after Signing Day in February from Alabama's Nick Saban and his new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the former Washington assistant who extended Browne his very first scholarship offer. Nussmeier informed Browne that the defending national champs wanted to bring him on board. Just two days later, a long-time Browne favorite, Oklahoma, offered as well.

About a week later, Browne departed for USC's Junior Day without any expectations. Not only was he offered a scholarship, he and brother Mitch, now a Southern California resident, met with USC athletic director Pat Haden for an hour, a meeting that had a big impact.

After a visit to Oklahoma, it became clear that Browne wanted one more trip to USC before he made his decision. Having all the facts he needed about the university in general, he would be on a football-centric visit this time. He wanted to get more personal time with the coaches and gain a better sense for the program.

Not only did he sit in on meetings, observe practice and forge a closer, more personal relationship with coaches Lane Kiffin and Clay Helton, Browne had a memorable lunch with current USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

Though Browne hadn't set a strict deadline on his commitment, only saying he definitely wanted it done before his senior year, he had seen everything he needed to see and was ready to announce his commitment to USC and end the recruiting process.

And for the second straight year, USC has secured the top-ranked player from the state of Washington. Not only might Browne and Zach Banner become program cornerstones at quarterback and left tackle respectively, it reinforces the program's ability to go and get top players from around the country. For all the talk about Washington's enhanced recruiting under Tosh Lupoi and emphasis on keeping top in-state talent at home, these are two crushing losses at the hands of USC.

Browne fits a position of need for USC, as well. No quarterbacks were signed in the class of 2012 and then there are sophomore Jesse Scroggins' academic problems. And then how does the backup battle play out between redshirt freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek?

Adding depth was important and with highly-regarded quarterback David Sills verbally committed for the class of 2015, would one of the program's 15 scholarships for the class of 2014 go to a quarterback?
A shy, reserved kid normally, Brown has told those close to him that one of the reasons he wanted to commit well before Signing Day was to be a "ringleader" and help attract additional recruits to USC.

Browne will now be able to lure in top running back talent, a position of need, as USC coaches sell their top targets on joining a class that now includes the nation's top signal-caller.

There's an irony here. Had Barkley opted to enter the NFL Draft after last season, Browne may not have chosen USC. One of the important criteria for him has been the possibility of early playing time. If Barkley's successor had been determined before he got to USC, Browne may have gone in a different direction.

Instead, Browne could be right in the middle of the competition for the 2013 QB job as soon as he arrives on campus. His smarts and high football I.Q. may make the learning curve not as steep as for others especially since as an early enrollee, he'll participate in spring practice. And as the man he had lunch with personifies, USC has been known to give a young guy a chance - even at quarterback.

But as excited as Browne is to be a Trojan, he is intent on finishing strong at Skyline next fall. Max has some "unfinished business" of his own -- securing family bragging rights with a second state title.

Johnie Freatman is a Communications major at USC and has covered the Trojans for Neon Tommy, KXSC Radio, Trojan Vision and ATVN. Follow him on Twitter at johnie_freatman.


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